CinemaCon: Barco Unveils 'Wraparound' Screen System

Ted Schilowitz disrupted film and TV production with the Red digital camera. Now, having left Red behind, he is looking to disrupt the moviewatching experience — for cinema’s own good.

“If cinema stands still, it will lose,” says Schilowitz, tech firm Barco’s newly anointed “cinemaVangelist” sitting in front of a demonstration of what he hopes will be his next disruptive technology: a wraparound screen system dubbed Escape.

Escape adds additional screens on either side of the theater, extending most of the way to the back wall. A pair of projectors at the front of the house throw onto the side screens.

“The goal is to provide a bigger, more intense, more encompassing canvas,” Schilowitz says, “to extend the boundaries of cinema, to open the possibilities of what happens when you break out of the rectangle.”

Theme parks, planetariums and museums have done wraparound screens before, and even the old Cinerama system tried to extend the screen to the edges of the aud’s peripheral vision. But Escape doesn’t require a purpose-built theater; it’s designed to fit any existing multiplex.

“We’re getting ready for our first deployment and we’ll be showing a deployable system at CinemaCon,” says Schilowitz. The cost per theater is expected to be $135,000 to $185,000.

Studios are showing interest, according to Barco. Only Fox and Disney were approached about Escape during its development. Fox, where Schilowitz is on the payroll as “futurist/consigliere,” is eyeing the format for its upcoming “Maze Runner” and “Ruin,” and will show early results of its experiments at CinemaCon. Disney is also trying out Escape. Other studios may join in.

Besides restoring auds’ excitement for cinema, the Escape system aims to turn pre-show advertising into something audiences will engage with, rather than something to be ignored while they play with their phones.

Schilowitz recognizes that filmmakers will have to discover how to use the Escape side screens. In narrative films, Escape can create a very strong sensation of being inside the action. Alternatively, the side screens can be used for split-screen video collages, which suits some documentary-style footage.

“This is an evolving medium. If you choose not to evolve, you die,” says Schilowitz. “This is where we think it has to go.”

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